With Chicago restaurants old and new, it’s easy to embark on transportive and unique dining experiences throughout the city. From an adorable Asian bakery to a tasting menu that whisks guests into the kitchen, there’s much to explore. Here are 10 of the most unique restaurants you should check out right now.
Walking into Smyth feels at first like trespassing in someone’s glamorous loft home. The building on the Western fringes of the red-hot West Loop dining district is so nondescript, it looks like a residential building. It’s not even immediately clear how to access the fine-dining restaurant. Up a short flight of stairs and to the right, you’ll find yourself in a wide-open and deeply comforting dining room that looks like a spacious artist’s studio. But in this case, artists are of the culinary ilk. Menu items include a slushylike bowl of tomatoes and oysters, aged rib-eye with kelp marmite and licorice-cured egg yolks immersed in yogurt meringue.
177 N. Ada St.; 773-913-3773
It's been a great year for unconventional fine dining in Chicago. Along with Smyth, Oriole has quickly established a new niche for tasting menus in comfortable, uncommon settings. In this case, the West Loop restaurant is accessed through an unmarked door along a quiet side street that almost feels like an alley. You’ll enter the dining room through a freight elevator, at which point you’ll feel right at home in Oriole’s comfy, high-ceilinged abode. There’s no physical menu here either, so, put yourselves in the dexterous hands of the kitchen team and prepare to be wowed.
661 W. Walnut St.; 312-877-5339
The Bakery at Fat Rice
It’s not too often a bakery serves pig-shaped pastries or buns infused with a mai tai cocktail, but The Bakery at Fat Rice is far from ordinary. The Asian-inspired endeavor injects innovation into this sunny, cottagelike nook brimming with unique sweet and savory pastries and offbeat beverages like carrot milk. Try that aforementioned pig bun, adorably dubbed “honey pig,” which comes draped with chewy pork floss.
2951 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-661-9544
Hopewell Brewing Company
Your typical taproom skews boisterous, dark and often crowded. Hopewell Brewing Company, a newcomer to Logan Square’s beer scene, goes in its own direction with one of the prettiest and most inviting taproom spaces in Chicago. The sunny, whitewashed room looks like Martha Stewart’s garage, filled with sleek tables and chairs, a cozy bar and soaring windows. It’s also worth noting that one of the brewing tanks visible through floor-to-ceiling glass has giant googly eyes attached, making it seem like it’s watching over you as you drink.
2760 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-698-6178
At first glance, Acadia may look like a fairly commonplace fine-dining establishment. But in many ways, this South Loop dining destination is filled with unexpected twists and turns. The first evidence of that is with its bar menu, which veers away from fine dining with elevated renditions of classic comfort foods like lobster rolls, burgers and “Kentucky fried” Jidori chicken. The biggest surprise of all, though, is when diners participate in the grand tasting menu in the main dining room. Midway through, they’re whisked into the kitchen for a champagne toast amidst the chefs and snacks like beef tendon with ramen spices.
1639 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-360-9500
After quickly developing a ravenous ramen fanbase with its inaugural location in Wicker Park, Furious Spoon got a little crafty with its expanded beverage program at its Logan Square spin-off. So crafty in fact that the cocktail list is easily one of the most unique beverage programs in Chicago. For instance, the triangle-shaped bar serves margaritas seasoned with nori syrup, an old fashioned with toasted sesame and a frozen pisco drink splashed with matcha.
2410 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-770-3559
Antique Taco Bridgeport
A darling among Chicago’s esteemed taco scene, Antique Taco’s recent expansion to Bridgeport gave the near South Side a real gem in terms of distinct design and menu offerings. Case in point: There’s a hard-shell taco filled with charred octopus and chorizo. There’s also a sprawling patio lined with picnic tables and bedecked with an Airstream trailer, lending a rural Southwestern vibe to the space. Be sure and order one of its vivid prickly pear slushy margaritas while you’re at it.
1000 W. 35th St.; 773-823-9410
One of the most transportive (and underrated) drinking destinations in town is Tack Room, the old-timey saloon-inspired arm of the Thalia Hall gamut of restaurants and bars. Tucked inside a former horse stable, the bar boasts live music and stools situated alongside the piano so guests can sing along. Animal skull decorations, horseshoes and cowboy boots lend a distinct Western cowboy vibe, and the drinks are equally as special, with options like the carrot-infused Tack Room Buck.
1807 S. Allport St.; 312-526-3851
Ever since her days dazzling diners from her apartment through her underground restaurant One Sister, Iliana Regan has been at the forefront of imaginative and whimsical fine dining. This is certainly true of her Lincoln Square gem, Elizabeth, where themed tasting menus range from “ugly fruit” to Downton Abbey. With a penchant for foraging and meticulous local sourcing, Regan curates an ever-changing roster of dishes like freshly dug baby potatoes with cultured cream, acorn battered mushrooms, foie gras molded into the shape of an owl, bear rice crispies and Earl Grey-cured egg yolks nestled in rose petal ice cream.
4825 N. Western Ave.; 773-681-0651
Mezcaleria Las Flores
Ever sip mezcal out of a gourd husk? Now you can, thanks to Logan Square’s pioneering Mezcaleria Las Flores, a temple to all things agave. Not only are the mezcal-focused drinks unique in and of themselves (it’s not too often mezcal is mixed with absinthe and cacao), but the glassware is truly special. Much of the serving vessels were hauled to Chicago from Mexico by barkeep Jay Schroeder, including gourd husks shaped like small bowls and Victoria beer bottles sliced off smoothly at the top and lined with spices.
3149 W. Logan Blvd.; 773-278-2215